• Sunday, July 14, 2024
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Despite US sanctions, Cuba aids world to combat coronavirus

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For Cuba, an island nation in the Caribbean Sea that is at the frontline of efforts to stem a global pandemic, the biggest headache isn’t the novelty of the COVID-19 but a strained relationship with the US that could jeopardise its efforts.

Cuba continues to engage in medical missions despite US sanctions and warnings.

Health workers from Cuba have been sent to over 14 countries including Italy to help them battle the coronavirus pandemic.

About 593 health workers are aiding Andorra, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Surinam, Jamaica, Haiti, Belize, Dominica, and the island nations of Saint Christopher and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, St Lucia and Antigua, Barbuda and Italy, Cuban Ministry of Health told Al Jazeera.

Beyond assisting countries struggling with the coronavirus pandemic, Cuban health experts are around the globe providing various forms of medical assistance to different countries.

Currently, about 37,000 Cuban health workers are on medical missions in 67 countries that are offered in exchange for wages paid to the Cuban government, others are free, based on trade agreements according to the New York Times.

But a six-decade-old tension between Cuba and the US remains unbaiting; not even in the face of a health crisis that has seen over a million infections and more than 60,000 deaths of which the US has a fair share.

The US State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor condemned Cuba via a tweet, as using such missions to gain funds from countries combating the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

They refer to the missions as “an abusive programme” that violates labour laws, warning countries to scrutinise agreements with Cuba.

Experts say the coronavirus offers Cuba the opportunity to continue engaging in selfless support through medical tourism but there may be economic and political advantages presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Díaz-Canel (Cuba’s president) is not just looking to restore revenues that the program used to provide but to drive a wedge between the US and Europe over the medical assistance program,” said Nicholas Watson, who leads political risk coverage for Spanish-speaking Latin America at Teneo, a consultancy, on Sunday in the Financial Times.

The US has imposed several embargos against Cuba, some dating as far back as the 1950s. These embargos include economic, financial and commercial restrictions where US companies are not allowed to trade with Cuba. The epitome of US sanctions is broadly on Cuba’s standings on democratization and violation of human rights laws.

According to Reuters in October last year, tougher US sanctions have led to international banks avoiding transactions with Cuba while prospective investors put their investment plans in the country on hold with foreign firms in the country restructuring to lower their risk exposure.

For the island nation’s economy, health tourism becomes a viable means of sustenance.

Cuba also complained about facing the challenge of receiving its shipment of COVID-19 aid from Chinese billionaire Jack Ma due to US blockade, an action it described as “inconceivable in a global crisis.”

Iran in a similar situation has asked the US to lift economic sanctions to allow the middle-eastern country to defend itself against the coronavirus. The US has ignored its pleas as well as Venezuela’s.

At the frontline

Italy recently received Cuban thirty-seven doctors and fifteen nurses to help in the fight against the deadly coronavirus (COVID-19) that has killed thousands, mostly in Lombardy.

With over 50 Italian health workers dead from coronavirus, Cuba’s doctors and nurses offered respite to a nation stricken by the pandemic.

Cuba claims the use of a drug, Interferon Alpha-2B Recombinant (IFNrec) as treatment of the coronavirus. It was produced as a venture with China in the 1980s. The CDC is investigating the drug Interferon-beta, among others, as a potential cure for coronavirus.

Cuba displayed its internationalism by allowing a British cruise ship with 5 confirmed coronavirus cases to dock after being rejected by other countries.

The Cuban government received a commendation from the UK Foreign Minister, as the majority of the passengers were British nationals.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also recognised Cuba’s active role in the fight against Ebola and efforts assisting nations during the crisis.

Cuba has a large-scale training programme for medical personnel to support its medical internationalism.

The result can be seen in a report by the WHO, Cuba has a density of physicians is 81.9 (number of physicians per 1,000 population). This is three times the figure for the US with a density of 25.9.


The island nation has over the years deployed medical workers to nations in crisis, this programme referred to as Cuban Medical internationalism has existed since the early 1960s. According to an academic paper by the International Journal of Health Services published in 2007, 28,422 Cuba health workers have worked in 37 Latin American countries, 31,181 in 33 African countries, and 7,986 in 24 Asian countries based on a study on Cuban Internationalism.

There are presently 289 confirmed coronavirus cases, 6 deaths and 15 recovered cases in Cuba since it reported its first case on the 11th of March.